Nattin looks ahead at the overgrown track winding gradually up through the forest, towards another low pass in the foothills. He had heard that the Submissionists lived in isolation, but this seems to be carrying the concept to extreme.
Nattin's aging backside is beginning to protest the long ride, to the detriment of his scholarly enthusiasm.
Nattin: I don't suppose you can zlin them yet, Driver?
Driver: Sorry, Professor N. No sign yet.
Nattin ~~ sighs ~~.
Nattin: Well, we knew they were remote. ~~ resignation ~~
Nattin: If that young man Barrysboy Fox is typical, there'll be a paper out of this, at the least.
Nattin is trying to see the positive things about this journey, to avoid dwelling on the negatives and thus inflicting them upon his renSime colleague.
Nattin: I do hope we can get to the place before sundown, however. It's starting to get cold.
Driver nods; the temperature doesn't bother him as yet.
Nattin wouldn't have been bothered by the temperature himself, at Driver's age, but he hasn't been Driver's age for some decades.
Driver: I wonder what happened to that young fella they sent out here before? He never came back.
Nattin: He's probably been too busy to spend several days away from his family's farm.
Driver: Fair enough, but they must have some surplus labor in the community.
Driver has been studying a bit of Gen economics in his ample spare time.
Nattin: I understand our visitor, and perhaps his family, was desperate for money. Perhaps the rest of the community is more affluent, and don't feel compelled to take such steps. Remember, the first donors from Gumgeeville were the Mullins family, who were among the poorest residents.
Nattin is drawing hopeful comparisons between Gumgeeville and the Submissionists; another Gumgeeville would be a feather in Bibi's cap, and reflect well on her staff, too.
Driver doubts -- privately -- that the situation is in any way comparable.
Nattin: Mr. Fox was unusually calm during his first interaction with a Sime, which might be a sign of a more openminded community.
Driver: From what Hajene Bibi said, I think it's probably a matter of some kind of special training.
Driver zlins a group of Gen nagers at his extreme detection range.
Driver: Ah. The village is out there.
Driver points somewhat at an angle to the trail.
Driver: I think we'd better stick to the trail, though.
Nattin: Yes. It's not much of a road, but it's better than nothing.
Nattin is feeling better, knowing that the end of their journey is in zlin.
Nattin: Besides, they might take offense if we appeared to be sneaking in by the back way.
Driver: We should be there in a few minutes, presuming the road cooperates.
Muskrat hears a horse coming up the trail and wonders who was away. He doesn't remember anybody going out. He sees an unfamiliar horse and buggy and wonders what a male elder and a skinny young man are coming to the village for.
Muskrat: [calls] God is great!
Nattin tries to feel his way into an appropriate reply.
Nattin: God is indeed great, and we have come to speak with those who keep faith with him.
Muskrat: We all are servants of God, but perhaps you should speak to the elders.
Muskrat notices his wife watching through the window and trusts her to keep the children in, away from alien influences.
Nattin: If they are willing to speak to an outsider, we can perhaps be of use to your community, as it may help our endeavors.
Driver tries to make himself inconspicuous: "I'm just the driver, don't look at me."
Muskrat wonders whether these two have come to sell them what they don't want or need, as most strangers who come here do. He debates whether to tell them that, or pass the buck to the elders.
Nattin actually is working towards buying, in the long term.
Muskrat: I will take you to an elder. Follow me.
Muskrat waves to his wife, and heads up the track to his neighbor's house. He hears the horse following, so doesn't look back.
Nattin observes the decisive way in which their guide marches, and wonders if the man is in a hurry, or simply is reluctant to deal with strangers.
Muskrat leads the strangers into his neighbor's yard.
Muskrat: Wait here.
Nattin nods agreeably, and looks around the farmstead ~~ curiously ~~.
Muskrat disappears into the house. The door opened for him as soon as he reached it.
Nattin: I suppose I'd better get down, so I'm not looking down on this elder if he or she decides to speak with us. You stay there; you're less threatening sitting down, I expect.
Driver nods; the less he says, the better.
Nattin suits actions to words, climbing ~~ stiffly ~~ out of the buggy, and going to check the horse. He hopes that a display of proper care for livestock will offer some common ground on which to begin a discussion.
Maycom, one of the Elders, is sitting in a rocking chair with a lap blanket.
Maycom: God is great, neighbor. What do the strangers among us?
Muskrat: The old man says he wishes to speak to the faithful, that he may help us, and we may help him.
Maycom nods slowly.
Maycom: I will speak to him, neighbor. Do you remain at hand, for the world is full of deceits.
Muskrat: I shall, Elder.
Maycom gets up out of the chair and goes out his door. He's older than Nattin, but still moves easily.
Nattin turns from adjusting the horse's harness as the door opens. He's trying for dignity, but his curiosity is also apparent. He takes two steps towards the porch, then stops and imitates the bow which Barrysboy Fox used to greet him.
Nattin: God is great, Elder. I am Nattin ambrov Frihill, and I have come to see if I can be of use to your community, and whether it wishes to help in our endeavors.
Maycom: Greetings, man of the world. Please go on.
Muskrat stands at a distance that shows he's not going to participate in the conversation, but is prepared to assist or defend Maycom if necessary.
Nattin: I work at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center. A few months ago, a young man from your community came to visit us.
Maycom: Barrysboy Fox, yes. He was sent by the Council.
Nattin: Hajene Bibi offered then to check any of your children over twelve years of age, to determine which ones have established, and therefore are not in danger of going through changeover.
Nattin is watching Maycom closely, looking for clues as to what he thinks about the proposition. He was not offered a name in return for his own, which is usually not a good sign.
Muskrat is watching Nattin and Driver closely, and maintaining a stone face so as not to interfere with Maycom's tactics.
Maycom: Come in to my house, and we will speak elder to elder. My name is Maycom.
Nattin: You honor me, Maycom. May my assistant Driver water the horse? It has worked hard and faithfully today.
Maycom gestures "by all means".
Maycom: Neighbor, assist the driver, please.
Muskrat shakes his head in consent, and gestures toward the pump.
Maycom smiles internally, and is glad he remembered to use the world's gesture.
Nattin walks forward to join Maycom.
Muskrat descends from the porch and goes to pump water into the trough.
Nattin: I am at your service.
Maycom goes back in his house without watching to see whether the stranger is following. He returns to his chair.
Nattin follows, walking a bit stiffly due to the long ride.
Maycom points to another chair opposite his.
Maycom: Be seated, ambrov Frihill Nattin.
Nattin: Thank you.
Nattin settles in the indicated chair.
Maycom raises his voice slightly.
Maycom: Aysh! Bread and salt, if you please.
Nattin would just as soon stand, after so long in the buggy, but accepting hospitality as an equal is vital.
Maycom holds his hand out, and a girl of about nine comes in, hands Maycom a plate, and scuttles out without looking at Nattin.
Maycom: My daughter's daughter.
Nattin: A fine, strong child.
Maycom scoops up some of the salt, puts it on his tongue, breaks off a piece of the flatbread, and chews and swallows it. He passes the plate to Nattin.
Nattin carefully follows what is obviously an important hospitality-ritual, then passes the plate back to Maycom.
Maycom chants quickly.
Maycom: We have eaten bread and salt. Let you be peace-holy among us. May you have shade, may you have water, may you have shelter among us. May your friends be our friends, your enemies be our enemies, and may God bring you to enlightenment in His own way.
Nattin listens ~~ respectfully ~~.
Maycom returns to a normal speaking voice, and smiles broadly.
Maycom: Let there be no ceremony between us, my friend.
Nattin: Thank you, Elder Maycom.
Nattin is not as uncomfortable as many out-Territory Gens would be with the Submissionist greeting ceremony, as the Householdings have a similar tradition of hospitality.
Maycom rubs his hands together.
Maycom: Now. We did not send the children as your Hajene Bibi requested, for we were concerned that they would be, well, unduly influenced by what they might see and hear in the world. Fox is strong in the faith, but not all the young are so.
Nattin: Indeed. To be young is to question.
Maycom smiles wryly.
Maycom: That is so, that is so.
Nattin: I came today, hoping that another, more acceptable, solution might be found.
Maycom: Indeed. And what would you propose? Your Sime companion surely is no channel, but he can at least tell us which children are Gens and which are still truly children?
Nattin: Yes, he can; that much does not require a channel's special skills. Although I am curious as to how you deduced that he isn't a channel?
Maycom: Come come, my friend Nattin. Channels are most seldom. Would you send one here on mere speculation? You would not.
Nattin smiles wryly.
Maycom: You send an elder, that is good. You also send a simple Sime to show your good will.
Nattin: If there was more than one channel stationed in Hannard's Ford, at present, Hajene Bibi would have come herself, speculation or not. If only because, should we discover a child in changeover, Driver and I may not be able to offer much assistance.
Maycom: Until matters can be done otherwise, then, we will take what help you can give with gratefulness, and keep to our traditional ways otherwise. Even to know that for some of our children we need no longer fear is a great goodness.
Nattin: Indeed. I never had to worry about how my own children and grandchildren would grow up. I can only imagine how it must be for your people.
Nattin: We can, at least, have Driver zlin your children for establishment. However, that is not a long-term solution. Children grow up at their own schedule, and some who are children now may be Gens by next month.
Maycom: It is not. But since we must remain apart from the world and its temptations, what shall we do? If we could raise up a channel from among our own, that would be a solution, but there lacks time to bring a child in changeover to the town.
Nattin: I can not make the journey to Hannard's Ford any shorter, alas. However, if your children can be examined regularly, at least there would be less chance of mistaking sickness for changeover, in the future.
Maycom: Indeed, as you say. Could you send one of your Simes here once every moon?
Nattin: It is possible that this could be arranged, but the Tecton has very limited personnel, and many obligations.
Maycom sighs deeply.
Maycom: Few hands and much work. Is it not so everywhere?
Nattin: Yes. There are many who require the services we can offer: far more than we can realistically help, especially when our primary duty is to provide selyn for the Simes among our people.
Maycom: Then we and you both will do what we can, God willing.
Nattin: There are things you can do, to make this three-day commitment more attractive to the Tecton authorities.
Maycom raises his eyebrows interrogatively.
Nattin: If the journey could be made more relevant to the Tecton's primary goal -- supplying the selyn that the renSimes require to avoid killing Gens -- it would be much easier for our leaders to justify the ongoing commitment to your community.
Maycom: That is, you wish us to donate our selyn to your channel while he is here.
Nattin: I'm not trying to pressure you to do something you feel is wrong, but that would get you a channel every month, instead of a renSime whenever we can manage it, and find someone who's willing to go. A channel can zlin changeover several days in advance, which would give your children a little extra protection.
Maycom: So, so. And this service you would grant us in exchange for the selyn of our community?
Nattin: I believe that could be arranged, yes. The final decision rests with Controller Ravven, since she's the one who would have to schedule a channel's time to make the journey.
Maycom nods slowly.
Maycom: Nor can I speak alone for the Council.
Nattin: I know Controller Ravven somewhat: she lacks the imagination to come up with such an idea herself, but is intelligent enough to understand the opportunity this presents to accomplish something to the benefit of all.
Nattin is quite prepared to inform Seruffin, if Ravven proves stubborn.
Maycom smiles faintly.
Maycom: It seems that such persons are to be found everywhere.
Nattin: Most of a Controller's duties require more attention to detail than imagination; Hajene Ravven is a decent administrator, overall.
Nattin isn't going to go into the matter of the tardy Donor replacement, just now.
Nattin: She is certainly capable of seeing any reasonable arrangement through.
Maycom: That is well. Yet what of the money which you paid the boy Fox?
Nattin: The Tecton offers a payment to every Gen who donates selyn, which is recovered from the Simes who receive the selyn.
Maycom: "Recovered"? You do not take more from the Simes than you give to the Gens, then?
Nattin: The selyn tax is intended to cover the cost of providing selyn, which includes the channel's time, and her Donor's. Medical services and administrative costs are funded out of more broad-based taxes.
Maycom nods again.
Nattin: Does the availability of compensation pose a problem to your community?
Maycom: I think it would, yes. We live here apart from the world, as you know, and although we are not commanded to poverty, we do try to avoid temptation. But of poverty, tell me, are there the poor in Simeland as there are in the world here?
Nattin: I have never known of a society that didn't have its poor, and its wealthy, and I have spent most of my adult life studying the ways people find to live together. Wealth may be defined differently, from time to time, as anything from possessions to children to influence, but it exists.
Maycom: [proudly] Here we have no poor. Yet we are commanded to give to the poor, and so we do it in the world as we can. I will say to the Council: "Let the money, above the small part that we need for ourselves, be given to the poor in Simeland as God commands."
Nattin: I can assist your people to do that, but first I must know: How do your people define "the poor"? Or at least, the poor whom you wish to help?
Maycom: Why, you know your own people as we do not. How then do you define them?
Nattin smiles in return.
Nattin: I am pledged to Householding Frihill -- are you familiar with Householdings?
Maycom: If you would, tell me about them.
Nattin: Before Unity, Frihill and the other Householdings were closed communities much like this one, composed of a small number of channels, their Donors, the renSimes who used them to avoid the Kill, and the Gens who supported them with selyn. Property was held in common, a necessity due to the laws classifying Gens as livestock.
Nattin: Those laws have changed, but we hold to our traditions for the most part. For instance, the portion of my donation payment and salary that isn't required to support myself goes into the House account, where it helps fund various enterprises undertaken by the community as a whole.
Maycom: So we do also.
Nattin: Frihill helps fund the system of camps that assist new Sime immigrants from Gen Territory as they learn our language and culture. We contribute to medical research, particularly in the recovery of scraps of Ancient knowledge that can be applied to modern people.
Maycom looks especially interested.
Maycom: Ancient knowledge, you say?
Nattin: Frihill's specialty is archaeology. It was our researchers who recreated the lost Ancient art of photography, among other useful things.
Nattin has a ~~ justified pride ~~ in the accomplishments of his Naztehrhai.
Maycom: My friend, I will tell you a thing that we have not spoken of to unbelievers before. May I have your word that you will not speak of it?
Nattin: I give you my word, unto Frihill.
Maycom looks searchingly into Nattin's face, and approves of what he sees there.
Maycom: We are called the People of the Book, yet much of the Book has been lost. Through the dark times, we kept it in memory only, and one added what he knew to another, and so it was preserved by the mercy of God. Yet we know that it is not complete. Is there, might there be, among your Ancient knowledge a more complete form?
Maycom has all he can do to keep his face and voice impassive as befits an Elder.
Nattin: It is possible, but I do not know. My field of study is living cultures. One of our experts in Ancient cultures would be more familiar with what is known of Ancient religions.
Nattin is at heart an academic, and any interesting research project sparks his ~~ interest ~~.
Maycom: Could it be done that one of our Elders would be able to speak with that man, then?
Nattin: The best person to consult would be Rheba. She translated several Ancient religious texts into Simelan, and she still keeps up with the new discoveries, although she's too frail now to dig them up herself.
Maycom is startled.
Maycom: She? Then your scholars are men and women as well?
Nattin: Indeed, and Sime and Gen, too. Rheba is a renSime.
Maycom is puzzled.
Maycom: We do not know one Sime from another, I fear.
Nattin: Forgive me. RenSimes are Simes who are not channels, and who are therefore free to pursue other occupations.
Maycom: I see. But surely not just any occupations?
Nattin: Apart from those occupations which can only be performed by one larity or gender, yes. Any individual's choices will of course be limited by his or her circumstances, resources, education, interests, and aptitude.
Maycom nods and waves his hand.
Maycom: To be sure. But you were to speak of the poor in your land, and how you define them.
Maycom enjoys this conversation, the most sophisticated talk he's ever had with an unbeliever.
Nattin: My people -- and most Householders -- define the poor as people who must spend all their resources on mere month-to-month survival, with no realistic chance of improving their lot or developing their potential.
Maycom thinks this through.
Maycom: I think the Council will have no problem with that. Shall I tell you a story of the Messenger?
Maycom makes the capital M apparent in his voice.
Nattin: Please do.
Nattin settles back to listen with unfeigned ~~ interest ~~ and ~~ respect ~~.
Maycom's voice takes on a storytelling cadence.
Maycom: The Messenger said, "Charity is a necessity for every believer."
Maycom: His friends asked him, "What if a person has nothing?" The Messenger said, "He should work with his hands for himself, and give some of it in charity."
Maycom: His friends again asked him, "What if he is not able to work?" The Messenger again said, "He should help the poor and the needy."
Maycom: His friends again asked him, "What if he cannot do even that?" The Messenger answered and said, "He should urge others to do good."
Maycom: His friends again asked him, "What if he lacks that also?" The Messenger answering said to them, "He should prevent himself from doing evil, for that also is an act of charity."
Maycom is silent for a bit.
Maycom: These are the words of the Messenger: heed them!
Nattin ponders this exchange.
Nattin: The Messenger was wise, to point out to his friends that there are many ways to give to others.
Maycom: He also said, "Even to meet your brother with a cheerful face is an act of charity."
Nattin: Indeed. It is often harder to give of oneself, than of one's possessions.
Maycom: And that is just what you are asking us to do, is it not?
Nattin: Yes, it is.
Nattin doesn't try to pretend that he's asking something trivial.
Maycom: And that, I think, is very well, for it is written, "They who give away their substance by night and day, in private and in public, shall have their reward with their God: no fear shall come on them, neither shall they be put to grief."
Nattin: I cannot promise that the arrangement I propose will prevent your people from being put to grief. A channel's visit once a month won't prevent a child from entering changeover at other times, when the Tecton can offer no assistance.
Nattin wishes it were different, but that never changed anything.
Maycom: Yet will not such a one find fewer to prey upon until he can be destroyed?
Nattin: It is true that a Gen who has recently given selyn makes a less attractive target for an attacking Sime. It is also true that if the Sime is desperate enough, it is possible for such a Gen to be attacked.
Nattin: On the other hand... once a new Sime has taken selyn, he or she will not need more for a month.
Maycom: [grimly] Or at all.
Nattin: The Tecton will escort such young Simes across the border, if asked, teach them not to kill, and provide them with the opportunity to build a life.
Maycom: You do not punish...?
Nattin: Disjunction -- learning how not to kill -- is punishment enough. It involves months of physical and mental pain. Some Simes don't survive it. That is punishment enough, for the accident of not going through changeover where a channel is available.
Maycom: This is a matter beyond me, man of the world, for the question is not merely practical but moral. It must go before the Council, and it will involve a most difficult debate.
Maycom is shocked, but doing his best.
Maycom: There is a saying among us, "One step at a time."
Nattin: We have a similar saying.
Nattin doesn't elaborate, as "Catch your Gen before you kill it" would not be diplomatic to say.
Nattin: It is a challenging task, to sort through new knowledge and decide what it means for one's own people. If I can assist your deliberations by providing additional information, please let me know.
Maycom: I shall do so, friend.
Nattin: For now, though, I ought to rejoin Driver.
Maycom: Of course.
Maycom gets up, folds his hands, and bows over them to Nattin.
Maycom: Go with God.
Nattin bows in return.
Nattin: I shall endeavor to.
Maycom thinks: "It is written, 'To unbelievers who have wrought righteousness, of his bounty God may reward them.' So let it be, Lord." He would be shocked to discover the original wording of this particular passage.